Some folks believe that the words dinner and supper are interchangeable. This isn’t true.
Dinner is generally considered to be the biggest or main meal of the day. Restaurants are usually open for lunch or dinner, and their dinner menus tend to be more extensive. Dinner portions tend to be larger, too. Lunch portions are usually smaller.
Supper was a light meal taken after dinner. So, the word “supper” and the word “dinner” do NOT have equivalent meanings.
Wait a minute though! Usually, dinner is served at around 6 or 7 p.m. That means supper would need to be served around 9 or 10 p.m. Most people don’t eat a full meal at that time anymore. What happened?
Well, the answer is simple, really. Lunch happened. When the term “supper” was coined, lunch wasn’t really a thing. Most people were farmers. They would wake up at around 5 a.m., have breakfast, and then go work in the fields.
After around six hours of working in the fields, those farmers would come in for dinner. That’s right, back in the day, folks would have their big meal at around noon or 1 p.m. Then they would go back to work for six more hours.
When the farmers finally stopped working, they would come in for supper. Supper was a small meal, meant to eat before bed. It usually consisted of soup or a sandwich.
Once jobs became more industrialized, having dinner in the middle of the day became more of an inconvenience. Obviously, people working in factories and offices couldn’t run home at noon to cook a big meal. So, dinner moved to 6 or 7 p.m., and lunch was born.
Lunch is basically supper, but people eat lunch at around noon, instead of at the end of the day.
In some families, especially those with agricultural roots, the last meal of the day is still referred to as “supper,” but unless it’s a small meal after a large dinner, that’s not technically correct.
Photo: @klovestorun via Twenty20
By the way, this puts all of those old stories where a child was sent to bed without supper in perspective. Denying a child a light snack is one thing, but sending a child to bed without dinner seems like pretty harsh punishment.
Now that more of us are working from home, we may be eating our main meals earlier in the day, and then having a light meal later on. So, instead of “lacking self-control” as others may say, we actually are on a noble quest to bring back the practice of suppers. Your grandma would be proud.